Villing & Company

Negativity works – or does it?

Election Day in Indiana was this past week. And true to what has become accepted practice, some of the races were more than a bit nasty. As the upcoming year of presidential campaigning progresses, one can only cringe in dreadful anticipation of the new levels of mud-slinging that are on the horizon.

Conventional wisdom holds that negative political advertising works. At least, that’s what we hear from the media and the self-appointed parsons of political strategy. And the evidence clearly supports that view – at least in the short term. But I wonder about the long term impact of this approach.

Trust has been compared to a savings account. When one performs positively, a deposit is made and the account grows. Conversely, negative activities are a withdrawal from the bank of trust. Over time, this erosion undermines the perceived credibility of the individual or institution.

Here’s my point. The candidate who resorts to negative advertising may score a victory over his opponent, but at what cost? The willingness to throw mud at one’s rival inevitably raises questions about the attacker’s sense of fairness and ethics as well. The aggressor may get elected, but the voters never really feel good about their choice. So the base of support is often shaky, at best, making that politician vulnerable to attacks from later competitors or at any hint of scandal.

There’s a reason why politicians are viewed at the bottom of the scale of occupational trustworthiness. And that is a sad commentary on the state of our political system. These are the people who, in a very real way, control our destiny. We need people in political office we feel good about. I wonder if we do.

Filed Under: advertising

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